David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright, screenwriter and director known for such works as ‘American Buffalo,’ ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Phil Spector.’
Playwright David Mamet was born on November 30, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. He later founded the St. Nicholas Theatre Co. and won wide notice with productions that included Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo. Later, his 1984 work Glengarry Glen Ross was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Mamet became known for rapid-fire dialogue studded with obscenities and explorations of power relationships and corporate corruption. His screenplays include The Verdict and The Untouchables, and he's both written and directed projects such as The Spanish Prisoner, Redbelt and Phil Spector.
David Alan Mamet was born on November 30, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Jewish immigrants who had come to the city from Europe. They raised Mamet and his younger sister, Lynn, on the South Side of Chicago until their divorce. He eventually moved to a suburb outside of the city, living with his mother and stepfather. Lynn would later recall that their home life was generally harsh, fueling an anger to be seen in Mamet’s future work.
Education and Early Career
Having spent time as a child actor doing a variety of theater, screen and radio work, Mamet went on to attend Goddard College, graduating in 1969 with a degree in English literature. He toiled at an assortment of jobs before accepting a post at Marlboro College in Vermont. There, in 1970, he staged his first play—Lakeboat, inspired by a stint with the merchant marines. He later returned to Chicago to continue his craft and helped launch the St. Nicholas Theatre Company with William H. Macy, among others.
The ‘70s were the start of a prolific time for the developing playwright, as he penned a number of productions, including The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo, with the latter project marking Mamet’s Broadway debut in 1977 and winning the New York Drama Critics’ Circle prize for Best American Play. With often hard-hitting, viscerally disturbing language, Mamet’s output soon earned him a teaching position at Yale University and a 1978 return to Broadway with the radio-oriented The Water Engine/Mr. Happiness.
Mamet established a partnership with director Gregory Mosher, and 1984 saw the staging of the play for which the writer would become best known—Glengarry Glen Ross, a drama starring Joe Mantegna that followed the vicious interactions of a group of real estate salesmen positioned against one another. Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the acclaimed production.
Mamet has continued his stage projects over the ensuing decades, as seen with 1988’s Speed-the-Plow (which marked the Broadway debut of Madonna), 1997’s The Old Neighborhood (starring Patti LuPone), 2008’s November (starring Nathan Lane) and 2009’s Race (with James Spader, David Alan Grier and Kerry Washington).
Large Body of Film Work
In addition to his plays, Mamet has authored several books, such as the 1994 novel The Village and the essay collections The Wicked Son (2006) and Bambi vs. Godzilla (2007). However, it is Mamet's screen work that most people are familiar with. Going on to pen more than two dozen screenplays, he wrote the 1981 thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice, featuring Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson, as well as the 1982 Sidney Lumet drama The Verdict, for which Mamet received his first Academy Award nomination. He would earn another writing Oscar nod more than a decade later for 1997’s Wag the Dog.
In 1986 Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago was adapted by other writers into the romantic comedy About Last Night, starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. The following year Mamet’s stark screenplay work was seen once again with The Untouchables, a Brian De Palma film that chronicled the battle between Prohibition agent Eliot Ness and gangster Al Capone. Glen Ross was later adapted by Mamet into a 1992 film directed by James Foley and starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin.
Mamet has also directed many big-screen projects himself, such as the corporate mystery The Spanish Prisoner (1997), the movie industry comedy State and Main (2000), the caper Heist (2001) and the martial-arts based Redbelt (2008), all of which he wrote as well. Mamet also penned and directed Phil Spector, the 2013 HBO film that followed the murder trial of the title figure as played by Pacino, with Helen Mirren portraying the music producer’s attorney.